What is Ferritin? What causes Ferritin deficiency?
Ferritin is a protein that plays a crucial role in the storage and release of iron in the body. It is found in almost all living organisms, including humans. Ferritin is primarily responsible for storing iron in a non-toxic and soluble form, preventing iron overload and maintaining iron homeostasis.
The structure of ferritin consists of 24 subunits that form a hollow sphere. Each subunit can bind and store up to 4,500 iron atoms. This unique structure allows ferritin to store excess iron in a safe and controlled manner. When the body needs iron, ferritin releases it in a controlled manner to meet the demands of various physiological processes.
Ferritin is mainly found in the liver, spleen, bone marrow, and skeletal muscles. However, small amounts of ferritin are also present in the blood. Measuring the levels of ferritin in the blood is a common diagnostic tool to assess iron stores in the body.
Ferritin deficiency, also known as iron deficiency, occurs when the body lacks sufficient iron to meet its needs. Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies worldwide and can have various causes.
1. Inadequate dietary intake: Iron is obtained from the diet, and a lack of iron-rich foods can lead to ferritin deficiency. Vegetarians and vegans, for example, may be at a higher risk of iron deficiency since plant-based sources of iron (non-heme iron) are less readily absorbed by the body compared to animal-based sources (heme iron).
2. Increased iron requirements: Certain life stages and conditions increase the body’s iron requirements. For example, infants, children, and pregnant women require more iron to support growth and development. Women with heavy menstrual bleeding may also experience increased iron loss and require higher iron intake.
3. Poor iron absorption: Even if the diet contains sufficient iron, certain conditions can impair its absorption. Conditions like celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and gastric bypass surgery can affect the absorption of iron in the intestines, leading to ferritin deficiency.
4. Blood loss: Chronic blood loss can deplete iron stores over time. This can occur due to conditions such as gastrointestinal bleeding, ulcers, colorectal cancer, or heavy menstrual bleeding.
5. Increased iron demand: Some medical conditions increase the body’s demand for iron, leading to ferritin deficiency. Chronic kidney disease, cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease are examples of conditions that can increase iron demand.
6. Genetic disorders: Certain genetic disorders can affect iron metabolism and lead to ferritin deficiency. Hemochromatosis, for instance, is a hereditary condition characterized by excessive iron absorption, which can eventually deplete ferritin stores.
The symptoms of ferritin deficiency can vary depending on the severity and duration of the deficiency. Common symptoms include fatigue, weakness, pale skin, shortness of breath, dizziness, and decreased exercise tolerance. Severe or prolonged iron deficiency can lead to anemia, a condition characterized by low red blood cell count.
Treatment for ferritin deficiency typically involves iron supplementation and dietary modifications. Iron supplements are available in various forms, including tablets, capsules, and liquid preparations. In severe cases, intravenous iron may be necessary. Additionally, consuming iron-rich foods such as red meat, poultry, fish, legumes, and leafy green vegetables can help replenish iron stores.
In conclusion, ferritin is a vital protein involved in iron storage and release in the body. Ferritin deficiency, or iron deficiency, can occur due to inadequate dietary intake, increased iron requirements, poor iron absorption, blood loss, increased iron demand, or genetic disorders. Recognizing the causes and symptoms of ferritin deficiency is crucial for timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment.